Saturn CV1

If Saturn had survived, it's a good bet an MPV like the CV1 would be in its lineup. 

But Saturn didn't survive.

A casualty of General Motors infighting and the mistaken belief that what GM really needed to fight imports at home was another brand, one with Fisher Price-style plastic body panels and drab-but-chunky styling. 

In the classic sense of being reliable and well-made, Saturns were never really all that terrible because (apart from those damn ignition switches) they at least had the resources of a multi-billion dollar company to lean on for research and development. Saturn vehicles are, on average, a little better than Mazdas and a little worse than Volvos for long-term reliability. 

While the brand quickly earned fans, years of mismanagement and decline now gives little for owners to rally around, apart from recalls. To be a Ferrari fan is to be one of ten thousand all-in-red moving, chanting, somewhere along Monza's pit straight, swilling wine and carrying an enormous Cavallino Rampante flag during post-race victory celebrations. To be a Saturn fan is to get the closest-to-the-door parking spot at the local CVS pharmacy.

Saturn started out quite impressively, of course, but by the early 2000s I thought I'd start to see them sold alongside walkers, mobility scooters, and diabetes testing kits. That sound harsh, but with the last Saturn I drove (an Ion), I marvelled at how the interior plastics matched my grandfather's hearing aids and that the interior plastics seemed just as rugged as the yellow capsule inside a Kinder Surprise egg.

The CV1 is the ultimate specimen to illustrate Saturn's decline. Even Saturn designers probably hadn't realized that they'd designed its interior to match the washrooms in a long-term care home, or that the seemingly ingenious folding and sliding doors would look right at home on an oversized utility shower. Even the rear-facing jump seats for two children look as inviting as a truck stop diaper change station.

That said, the team of engineers in charge of its powertrain must have included a modern-day Nostradamus, as its spec sheet could be confused with just about any CUV or MPV on the market today: 2.2-litre 4-cylinder engine with 137 horsepower, all-wheel-drive, and a continuously-variable transmission. Open the hood, and its "Service Guide" station features colour-coded areas to highlight different fluid filling areas and warning lights for any that need attention—something I could see eventually making its way into a production car.

If the CVS…er, sorry, the CV1 is so dreadful, why bother writing about it? 

I think it's an important example of a modern vehicle designed solely to be as practical as possible—and damn the aesthetics. Is any of it such a bad idea, really? Or is the CV1 so unpalatable because of our unwillingness to consider ourselves getting older and needing huge grab handles, shelves in the centre console, a waterproof user manual under the hood, and upholstery more stain resistant than a stretcher's vinyl pad?